Rwanda: Victoire Ingabire - I'm Ready to Challenge Kagame in July Polls

Victoire Ingabire, Rwandan opposition politician (file photo)
20 February 2024

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza has said she will challenge Paul Kagame in the July 15 vote should she gain her political freedom next month.

Ingabire told Nile Post that she recently appealed to the High Court in Kigali for the rehabilitation of her political rights. The court will make its decision on March 13.

"If the court decision is positive then I will consider my participation in the elections this year," said Ingabire, who cannot hold public office in Rwanda due to her past conviction for which she remains under judicial supervision.

Ingabire returned to Rwanda from exile in the Netherlands in 2010, intending to take on a much more hands-on role in the country's politics. She had planned to run in the presidential election against Kagame.

But she was arrested three months later and, in 2012, sentenced to eight years in prison for "conspiring against the government by use of war and terrorism" and "genocide denial" for saying that Kagame's policies were not sufficiently inclusive, and demanding recognition and honour of all other victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Inabire's sentence was upgraded to 15 years on appeal. However, in September 2018, Kagame pardoned Ingabire alongside 2,139 other prisoners.

"The beginning of opening of the political space in Rwanda, I hope so," she told reporters outside the prison gates.

But she was so wrong, she admitted later, because remains deprived of her right to run for office she is under constant surveillance.

Victoire Ingabire during sports a clean prison pate during her trial in 2012. When Lord Purvis of Tweed (a Scottish Liberal Democrat) visited Ingabire, he would tell the House of Lords' peers debating the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill that Kigali administration had asked the hotel he was staying in to inform on him.

"I want to add to his experience that, the minute I had visited Victoire Ingabire, my phone was nicked," added Baroness D'Souza.

Kagame's government has won international praise for economic progress in Rwanda, but has faced fierce criticism from rights groups, including allegations of suppressing the media and opposition parties.

Like Ingabire, Diane Rwigara tried to challenge Kagame in the last year election. She was disqualified over allegations that she forged some signatures on her nomination papers and later charged with inciting insurrection.

But Ingabire has grown her hair back. The clean-shaven pate has been replaced with that she was in prison has that "I've no intention of giving up" - even as she appears conscious of the fact that for the Opposition in Rwanda, it is not about hope that they go on.

"I decided to campaign for the establishment of democracy," said Ingabire, 55, "a rule of law and respect for human rights in our country and in the interest of all Rwandans."

Last year, Ingabire told this reporter that Kagame has a chance to end Rwanda's history of strongmen who cling to power by organising free and fair transition instead.

"This is the only way to safeguard the achievement that he has brought about in Rwanda during his presidency," she said back then.

Kagame has been president of Rwanda for 24 years and has been the de-facto ruler of the country since 1994. He has changed the constitution twice to extend his rule.

In 2003, Rwanda changed the constitution giving Kagame a seven-year term renewable only once. But in 2015, fresh calls for amendments saw Kagame not only allowed to run for a third term in 2017 but also another two five-year terms starting in 2024.

Ingabire said the consensual democracy the RPF implemented has transformed into a political system that suppresses dissent, restricts pluralism and curbs liberty in Rwanda.

"The Rwandan government abuses its power, collaborating with the judicial system to criminalise its critics under the silent watch of the legislature," she said, "the past and present show that Rwanda has a democracy deficit and lack efficient rule of law."

in June 2021, together with fellow opposition figure Bernard Ntaganda, Ingabire published what they called "roadmap for a promising future of Rwanda". It lays out steps the government can take to break the cycle of violence, enable true reconciliation, protect human rights and bring prosperity to Rwanda.

Last year, Ingabire announced she had a new political party in the offing. The Development And Liberty For All (DALFA-Umurinzi), which she says strives to establish the rule of law and promote sustainable development in Rwanda, remains a briefcase party.

In 2010, Kagame won with 93% while facing Jean Damascene Ntawukuriryayo of the Social Democratic Party, Prosper Higiro of Liberal Party, and Alvera Mukabaramba of Party for Progress and Concord.

In the last election, he won by 98.7% against independent candidate Philippe Mpayimana and Frank Habineza of Democratic Green Party of Rwanda.

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